Wolfgang's Vault Sued By 26 Music Companies

Ebet Roberts/Redferns
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 10: ENTERMEDIA THEATER Photo of TALKING HEADS and Jerry HARRISON and Chris FRANTZ and David BYRNE and Tina WEYMOUTH, Group performing on stage L-R Jerry Harrison, Chris Frantz, David Byrne and Tina Weymouth (Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns)

Nine years later, round two in court for the purveyor of concert recordings and footage.

The NMPA has filed a suit on behalf of 26 music publishing companies against Wolfgang's Vault, an online marketplace which sells live concerts, CDs and vinyl.

PeermusicABKCO Music, Imagem and Screen Gems are among the publishers supporting the lawsuit, which was filed today in U.S District Court in New York.

The complaint alleges that Wolfgang's Vault has infringed on the companies' recording copyrights, through streaming, downloads, and physical sales. The complaint maintains that the sources from which the company acquired its recordings archive, including the Newport Jazz and Folk Festival and famed concert promoter Bill Graham, did not include the right to sell those recordings, but were simply the recordings themselves. The complaint asserts that Wolfgang's Vault lacks both synch and mechanical licenses to the content in its store.

“Systematic copyright infringement cannot be a business model, and it is unfortunate that Wolfgang’s Vault chose not to compensate all of the creators responsible for their content," comments David Israelite, president and CEO of NMPA, in a statement. "Hopefully, this lawsuit will bring publishers and many iconic songwriters the revenue they deserve for the use of their music.”

A source with knowledge of the suit tells Billboard that the companies have been concerned about Wolfgang's Vault and its respective companies' websites for some time.

This isn't the first lawsuit that Bill Sagan, CEO of Wolfgang's Vault and parent company Norton, has faced over claims of copyright infringement. Sagan told Billboard in 2011 that "we own the copyrights to the live performance masters. There were some... that took issue with that, primarily major labels, and we went to court, and we won. All the rights we thought we had when we bought these archives are rights that we still have and, in some cases, were expanded as a result of the litigation." That case, filed in 2006 by The Doors, The Grateful Dead, Santana and others, ended in a settlement two years later.

Sagan maintained to Billboard in 2011 that the company paid all necessary licenses, including to public rights organizations and for interactive streaming.

In addition to its main store, the suit also names Daytrotter, the website of the Horseshack recording studio, which invites artists to recording sessions at its Rock Island, Ill. headquarters. Wolfgang's Vault acquired a majority stake in Daytrotter in 2008. The site offers limited free listening as well as a subscription service for unlimited, ad-free streaming.

The music companies seek either the maximum statutory amount -- $150,000 per infringement, or $120 million for the 800 cases of infringement the complaint references -- or an estimate of actual damages plus profits from sales, as well as legal fees.

Wolfgang's Vault did not return a request for comment.